Sean Aiken, creator of The One-Week Job Project, presents What Makes You Come Alive? at TEDxVancouver conference. Here is the full transcript of the whole talk.
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Sean Aiken – Creator of The One-Week Job Project
In the fourth grade, my teachers began to associate my value with a letter grade. It took me a few years to adjust, but by the time I reached the eighth grade, I felt like I had unlocked the secret to the school system. I realized that it doesn’t matter what you are learning, it’s actually about figuring out how to get the teachers to give you a good grade.
So, in school, instead of studying the subjects, I studied my teachers. They told me what they wanted, I delivered, and in turn they gave me a great report card. This continued right through college, right up until I graduated the business degree, top of my class, 4.0 GPA. It wasn’t until graduation day that it hit me. I knew nothing.
None of the important things anyways. I knew nothing about myself, or what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that I wanted to be happy, that I wanted to be fulfilled, to feel like my life meant something, but other than that, I was completely lost. I felt really alone in this search. Everyone around me appeared to know exactly where they were going. At least that’s how it seemed.
I soon became depressed, and overwhelmed with anxiety and the expectations of others. So at that time, my dad gave me some advice. He said: “Sean, it doesn’t matter what you do. Whatever it is, just make sure it’s something you are passionate about. I’ve been alive nearly 60 years, and have yet to find something that I’m passionate about.”
We hear so often how important it is to find our passion, how it contributes to our happiness and our fulfillment, I think many of us would agree. Then, why is it when you ask someone what their passion is, the majority of us have absolutely no idea? How many of you know what your passion is?
To search for my passion, I created the One Week Job project, and worked a different job each week for a whole year. 52 jobs in 52 weeks. Set up the website oneweekjob.com, and on there I wrote: “Anybody, anywhere in the world, could offer me a job for one week.” I asked my employers to donate all my wages to charity. Oddly enough, it worked.
From exploring volcanoes as a park ranger in Hawaii, to choosing a spring fashion line as a fashion buyer in New York, introducing songs as a radio DJ in Toronto, I tried them all. Firefighter, reporter, stock trader, yoga instructor, NHL mascot, advertizing executive, baker. What I learned is that, in fact, I wasn’t alone in this search. It’s something all of us can relate to. Whether recently graduated from college, or later on in our career, facing any major transition, at some point in our life, we must look deep inside and ask ourselves: “What do I want to do with my life?” “What is my gift?” “What contribution do I want to make to the world?” And if we don’t genuinely explore these questions, we risk looking back with regret.
For instance, just last month, I was on a plane. I sat next to Linda who was coming home from visiting her 84-year-old mother. Linda described to me how she sat there, next to her mom, holding her hand, but she didn’t know how to comfort her. Linda’s mother, approaching the end of her life, feels that she never pursued her dreams; now she’s terrified of dying.
Traditionally, fulfilling life meant to find a well paying job that offered security. Simply to pay the bills, and if you enjoyed it, you were one of the lucky ones. But today, that security is proven to be an illusion, more and more people are seeing this moment as an opportunity. There’s a major shift taking place, a revolution in work consciousness, a shift in how we as a culture view work and our relationship to it. No longer is our work something that we merely endure. Our work is becoming ever more connected to our life’s work, a precious opportunity to share our unique gift with the world.
Each of my 52 weeks I’d ask my co-workers what they liked most about their job. They weren’t saying things like money, or job security. Although important, it wasn’t the first thing they’d mentioned. Instead, they said things like: “I enjoy my co-workers,” “I believe that I make a difference.”
Week 44 I met Ken, the Director of a preschool in Boise, Idaho. Ken is about 6’2”, 220 pounds, he more resembles a football linebacker as opposed to a child care worker. When I asked Ken what he liked most about his job, his eyes lit up. He said: “When I see a kid climb the monkey bars for the first time, or tie their shoes for the first time, to know that I’m playing a part in making that happen is incredible!”
After working on a dairy farm in week eight, waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning, heading up to the barn, milking the cows, shoveling the manure, I couldn’t understand how someone would possibly enjoy doing this. I looked over at George, the head farmer, and he loves it. “People need to eat,” he told me. “I feed thousands! And our organic farm is also healthier for the environment.”
The people who are the most passionate about their work are the ones who are connected to the meaning behind it. The actual job isn’t nearly as important as the relationship with it. They need to show up to work everyday because they contribute their gifts, and the world is made better because of it. And yet, our career is only one means of expressing our gifts, one means of fulfilling our passions. For some, working a job to pay the bills, allows them to explore the passions outside of work.
What’s most important is that in some aspect of our life, we give ourselves permission to express our gifts. This is when we feel truly alive. Howard Thurman said: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
What makes me come alive? To inspire possibility. To embrace the interconnectedness of each of us. To encourage dialogue that allows us to approach our life’s work with gratitude. When we embody our life’s work, when we share our gifts, we are fulfilled, energized, more compassionate. In turn, we enrich ourselves, our family, our friends, our communities. At a time when our world is facing major challenges at this ecological, economic, and social level, it’s no longer an act of self indulgence, it’s our responsibility and commitment to each other. It’s time. It’s time to create, as Charles Eisenstein wrote: “The more beautiful world our heart tells us is possible.”
So this is my plead to your heart, to our intuitive self that already knows the answer — that has always known the answer — what is your gift? What contribution will you offer the world? What makes you come alive?